So, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about the period five, level 400 kids (as a matter of fact, I’m in the period five, level 400 class right now – I brought my computer to school, but forgot my reading book). I’m hoping that writing will help me to solidify and organize some of that thinking.
It seems that things, at least at the moment, are getting a little better. This is the third day of getting the kids settled into a routine of reading and writing, though it’s still a little bit of a struggle. The students are often argumentative about the simple tasks we ask them to do. They seem unable to focus for more than a few minutes at a time, and only then after complaining loudly and enthusiastically about it.
There are thirteen students in the class. There are four adults in the class. You would think, with a ratio like this, that things should be rather easy to manage. Not so – not even a little. I’m not sure I’ve ever encountered a group of kids more resistant and easily distractible as these.
CT tells me that, up until this year, kids such as these would be in special education classrooms, but the school system saw fit to put them in regular classes this year as a means of trying to integrate them more fully into the academic community. The problem, though, is that they’re NOT integrated into the academic community. These kids move – almost exclusively as a pack – through each of their classes. They spend all day together, moving from math class to English class to biology class without ever sharing a classroom with students outside of their group. This accounts for at least part of the problem, I’m sure – they’re just plain sick of each other, and I can’t say that I blame them.
I’ve been struggling with my thinking about this class since I came to the school two weeks ago. I’m fighting against my instincts in how to deal with them, and am trying very hard to step back and observe.
For starters, this class doesn’t belong to me; I don’t have the authority to step in (and I’m not sure, at this point, that I’d want to if I did). The students know CT and seem to trust her (some more than others) and I have to respect that. Secondly, these kids have been shuffled around a lot in this class lately. They’ve been moved from room to room over the past two weeks; evicted out of one classroom, moved to a temporary spot only to be kicked out of that room, too. They’re trying to find some equilibrium, and having me come in from out of thin air isn’t helping matters any. I’m mindful of that.
The thing is, though, I am choking back an almost undeniable desire to reveal Ms. Bitch. These kids have almost no respect for themselves or anyone else. Very rarely does anyone speak politely to anyone else (though one of the girls did say “thank you” to me when I opened a locked door for her). I regularly hear them challenging each other, “shut up” is a common phrase, and their listening skills are practically nonexistent. My instinct is to march in there and establish myself as the Alpha dog. You come in, you sit down, you do what we tell you. You do not speak rudely to us or anyone else, you do not complain about every little thing we ask you to do, you do not get up and wander around whenever you damned well feel like it. Did you go to kindergarten? Remember the rules? THEY STILL APPLY! If you can’t behave like young adults, I will treat you like little children. I can do that, you know, and will suffer not a moment’s hesitation.
I’m not sure that’s the best approach here, though. There are a lot of different personalities in the class and I’m not sure that coming in and demanding proper behavior would work. I’m not afraid to stand up to a bunch of 14 year olds – that’s not my issue – I just wonder if my coming in there with all my attitude hanging out would attain the desired result. I have the feeling that Ms. Bitch would prove to be more of a target than an authority figure.
Still, something has to change. The students aren’t really working on anything. They’re not learning to use their language more appropriately or skillfully; they’re not making connections between what they read and everything else; they’re not thinking critically. More than anyone else, I think THESE are the kids who NEED those skills. Sure, the kids in the upper levels should know all those things, but it’s the kids who we know aren’t going to college – the kids who are going to live all their lives in the “real” world – who we should be arming with the kind of knowledge they can get from a language arts class. They are doing their best to see that they don’t HAVE to learn those things, though, and I fear that they will realize, too late, that they could have earned a significant advantage here.